The portion of Bechukotai begins, im bechukotai teileichu, “If you will go in My statutes,”1 which can't mean, “If you keep My mitzvot,” because the verse continues, ve-et mitzvotai tishmoru, “and you will keep My mitzvot.” So what does it mean to go in G‑d’s statutes? Rashi cites the teaching of the Sifra, that it means, "That you should toil in Torah [study]."

Bechukotai comes from the word chok (or in plural, chukim) which I translate as "statutes," for lack of a better word. A chok is a mitzvah that we don't know the reason for; it's a decree from G‑d, we do it just because He wants us to, and for no other reason. As our sages say, "A chok... you don't have permission to ponder about [its reason]."2

It would make sense for mitzvot to be referred to by the word bechukotai, implying that even though we know the reason for the mitzvot we should do them as if they are chukim, just because G‑d wants us to. That is a greater way of doing mitzvos.

However, Torah is meant to be understood. How does it make sense for Torah study to be done in a way of bechukotai?

Perhaps it can refer to reading the Written Torah, which is a mitzvah even if you do not understand it, but you can hardly use the word “toil” to describe this activity. On the other hand, the Oral Torah must be understood.3 Also, the Written Torah is limited, there are exactly 24 books, each with a finite number of words, while the Oral Torah is vast and unlimited and it grows every day due to the innovations of diligent students of the Talmud, halachah, etc.4 Thus, the notion of toiling in Torah best fits this description of the Oral Torah. So what is the meaning of the word bechukotai with regards to Torah study?

The Alter Rebbe explains that bechukotai is related to the word chakikah, which means “engraved.” In other words, a person should toil in Torah study to the extent that it becomes engraved in oneself.

What is the difference between engraving and writing?

When you write on paper, the ink adheres to the paper and they become one. However it is not truly one; rather, they are two things that are attached to each other.

On the other hand, when engraving into stone, the words and the stone are truly one, the words are not an entity of their own; there is only the stone.

The lesson here is that our goal shouldn't be merely to learn Torah in a way that it is like two entities that attach to one another. Rather, the Torah study should nullify the student to the extent that he or she doesn't exist; only the Torah exists.

One person who reached this level is Moses. That is why he was able to say, "And I will put grass in your field for your cattle,"5 meaning that G‑d would put grass... Why was he able to say "I"? Because he was so nullified before Hashem that "the Divine Presence spoke from within his throat."6 To Moses there was only G‑d; he, himself, didn't exist.

Another person who reached this level was Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who said, "I have seen people who are at the highest level... if there are two, they are me and my son."7 In another place he is quoted as saying that he might be the single person in whose merit the world exists.8 A righteous person wouldn’t say his own praises, but no one saw his statement that way, because he was so nullified before G‑d that he was merely reporting things from G‑d’s perspective, so to speak.

When there are multiple meanings of a Hebrew word, they must be connected in some way.9 How do we reconcile the explanation of the Alter Rebbe, that it means “engraved,” and the simple meaning, that it means “statutes?” How do we learn Torah in a way of chukim, accepting the yoke of Heaven?

One has to understand what he or she is learning, but not in a way that learning is for one’s own pleasure, rather because G‑d wants us to do so.

Torah is a pleasure to learn, but if he only learns to the point that gives him pleasure, it's not in the way of chukim; it's not accepting the yoke of Heaven and it's not toiling. When he pushes himself to learn more than he enjoys, that it is considered Torah in the way of chukim, accepting the yoke of Heaven by toiling in Torah. This kind of Torah study brings one to self-nullification in the way of chakika, engraved, one with G‑d.

We are left with a question. The verse says, im bechukotai teileichu, “If you will go in my statutes.” We have to understand how the word teileichu (“go”) fits in here. In our service to G‑d, it means not to stagnate, to constantly reach higher and higher levels. It makes sense to say it about things one can develop, like the emotions and the mind. A person can develop more mature emotions; for example, love can grow greater and greater. The mind can be developed and broadened to understand more and deeper concepts. However, chukim means doing something in the way of accepting the yoke of Heaven. When it comes to accepting the yoke of Heaven, there are no levels—you either do or don't. What does teileichu in accepting the yoke of Heaven mean?

The Alter Rebbe explains that the reward for acting in the way of bechukotai, accepting the yoke of Heaven, is teileichu, being taken higher and higher without end. However, when we teach children this verse, the reward is in the following sentence, where G‑d enumerates all the blessings, "I will give your rain in its time..."10 And teileichu refers to the service of the Jewish people for G‑d, not for the reward.

The Alter Rebbe tells us11 that emunah, belief, is for levels of G‑dliness beyond one’s ability to understand. For the levels that a person understands, one doesn’t need belief. The higher one's potential and ability to understand, the more a person is responsible to reach beyond to a point that is even greater. (Not that anyone is excused from learning; each person is imbued with deeper potential.) So his emunah has to be at a higher level. Being that every day his mind develops and is able to grasp loftier ideas, what he needed emunah for yesterday, makes sense today. He doesn't need emunah for what he already knows. Now he needs emunah for even higher levels of G‑dliness. And it is a never-ending cycle, always striving to attain higher and higher levels.

From this we can understand that when it comes to chukim there are also levels and movement in the way of teileichu, because yesterday's chukim can be understood today, and now there are higher levels within chukim, providing the opportunity for teileichu, going from level to level.

May we go from strength to strength in our Torah study, going to a higher plane every day. Through this we will merit to learn the Torah of Moshiach, which will take us higher than we could imagine. May it happen soon.12